The Revolutionary Idea in the Twentieth-Century World

  • Krishan Kumar
Part of the Themes in Focus book series (TIF)


In July 1989, as tourists poured into Paris for the celebration of the bicentenary of the fall of the Bastille, Parisians were to be observed setting off in droves for their country retreats. As had become increasingly clear in the preceding months, the French were disenchanted with 1789, bored with the very idea of revolution.l In this they reflected the scholarly consensus that had built up steadily over the post-1968 years in the West. It was shown in the triumph of the ‘revisionist’ historiography of the French Revolution, illustrated in the characteristically engaging — and engagé — remark of Richard Cobb that ‘the French Revolution should never have happened, possibly never did happen, and in any case had no effect one way or the other on most people’s lives’.2 It was shown in the general disparagement of revolution as a mode of transformation, the view that if revolutions had indeed once been, as Marx put it, the locomotives of history, ‘in our industrial (or “post-industrial”) age, the locomotive has become an outdated means of historical transport’.3


French Revolution Western Radical Russian Revolution Revolutionary Idea Iranian Revolution 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    On the distinctly cool French response to the bicentenary, see E. Hobsbawm, Echoes of the Marseillaise (London, 1990), pp. ix–x, 96–113.Google Scholar
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    Quincy Wright, quoted in S. Neumann, ‘The International Civil War’, World Politics, 1 (1949), p. 334, note 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    On the Russian Revolution of 1917 as the model for Third World revolutions, see T. H. Von Laue, Why Lenin? Why Stalin? A Reappraisal of the Russian Revolution. 1900–1930, 2nd edn (Philadelphia, 1971).Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Octavio Pat, ‘Twilight of Revolution’, in I. Howe (ed.), Twenty-Five Years of Dissent (New York and London, 1979), pp. 314–25.Google Scholar
  45. 59.
    A. Camus, The Rebel, trans. A. Bower (Harmondsworth, 1962), p. 29.Google Scholar

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© Krishan Kumar 2001

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  • Krishan Kumar

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